In this fourth article on the Media Mindfulness strategy, we move to the third question: What difference does it make? The first two questions of the strategy ask you to look at the media text itself. We asked “what is going on?” and “what is really going on?” of the media text. Now we move into the part of the strategy that puts the media text in conversation with our faith and the values we hold as followers of Jesus Christ.
Thanks, once again, to St. Mary’s press for permission to reproduce this graphic.
The third question, “What difference does it make?” asks us to put our discernment hats on. We discern in the media text the values and points of view present. What Christian values does the text support or ignore? Does the story told in the media text deal with things like respect, human dignity, kindness, forgiveness, reconciliation, community, honesty, integrity or family? Are other values present? How do the characters embody these values? What does the story say about the effect of living these values?
Values in everyday life
I don’t know too many people who wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I’m going to live according to my values today!” Values/virtues are the guiding lights that drive our thoughts and actions but they are so much a part of ourselves that we don’t often think about them. People can be generally kind, positive, understanding, or honest but they can also be impatient, selfish, and petty. We all have core values that we try to live by, but we don’t always do such a great job at it. That’s why forgiveness is so important. None of us are perfect.
Why focus so much on values when questioning a media text? Because values are the building blocks of character that does so much to determine the way we think and act on a regular basis. If integrity is one of your core values, for example, then you will approach life with honesty and truthfulness. When we see the values we hold reflected in media stories we experience we can allow ourselves to be inspired by those stories and they can give us courage to live out those values in our everyday lives. On the other hand, we can be turned off when our favorite media exhibits values contrary to the ones we hold. Truth be told, most media stories have both positive and negative values. That’s where discernment comes in.
Discerning values so as to make good media choices
By asking “What difference does it make?” of a media text we identify the values that are often taken for granted. This exercise helps us choose media that exhibits the values we cherish. For example, I like cop shows on television. I find the ‘good wins out over evil’ ideology encouraging and I like to see it reflected in my favorite TV shows. I also like how some of the shows I watch value accountability, holding a person responsible for their actions no matter who they are. Sometimes, however, the same episode of a show might have these values but also things I don’t value, such as the disrespect shown to people when offensive language is used or the casual attitude toward sex that goes against the moral values of my faith.
Conflicting values in media stories are why discernment and conversation is so important. By using the Media Mindfulness strategy and identifying the values, positive and negative, in a media text, gives us the opportunity to think/talk about our values. Especially when doing the strategy with kids, we can talk about why we would want to embody the positive values a character exhibits and why we try our best NOT to exemplify negative values such as disrespect.
Don’t shy away from media with negative values (as long as the positives outweigh the negatives!)
A while back I was giving a talk on social media and media mindfulness to a group of religious education students ranging from 6th to 8th grade. I showed them an advertisement, asking them to identify the values. It had values like courage, listening, respecting elders, and living to the full. The ad also contained one swear word, the “b” word. The younger kids let out a gasp when they heard it. I was so proud of them to notice. This led to an amazing conversation about what the word meant in that context and how we might go about finding a different way to say what we mean without resorting to swearing. We also talked about respect and how using bad words is disrespectful to other people.
I tell this story because sometimes, especially in a faith setting, we might be afraid to show a specific media text because it has something “bad” in it. (I should mention here that one of my cardinal rules is to always show media age-appropriately.) If the clip is age-appropriate and the positive values outweigh the negative ones, don’t shy away from using it. What’s so wonderful about the Media Mindfulness strategy is that when we can identify negative values in media, it gives us the opportunity to talk about those values with our children or our students and discern more deeply for ourselves. It’s much easier to talk about the positive values. Those are things we want to have in our lives. It’s more of a challenge to look closely at the negative values and talk about those. No one likes to admit that maybe they’ve acted selfishly at one time or another. Perhaps we’ve even let a few of those bad words slip past our lips in times of anger or weakness. It’s the striving to live according to the values of Christ that really matters.
So what does all this mean?
With the question “What difference does it make?” we bring our faith into conversation with the media. We discern the values, both positive and negative, in the media text and we think/talk/pray about whether or not we want to integrate those values into our daily living. The specifics of how we go about doing that will be covered in the next article on the fourth question: “What difference can I make?” Stay tuned.